Former Gov. James E. Holshouser Jr., the first Republican to be elected the state’s chief executive in the 20th century, died earlier today. Holshouser was 78.
A native of Boone, Holshouser earned his undergraduate degree from Davidson College. After earning a law degree from UNC in 1960, he returned to Watauga County to practice there. In 1962 Holshouser was elected to the N.C. House, where he served four terms. When he won the governorship in 1972, at the age of 38, Holshouser became the nation’s youngest chief executive in the 20th century.
Over the course of his political career, Holshouser found himself the subject of photographer Hugh Morton.
“As a teenager in 1960, Clyde Edgerton was trying to find a name for the doubts he was feeling about his conventional, small-town life in Bethesda, North Carolina.
“Then, a high school assignment offered up a tutor for life. Edgerton’s epiphany came while reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Nature’:
” ‘The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should we not have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? . . . The sun shines today also. . . . Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.’
“In Emerson, Edgerton found someone who let him know that questioning orthodox belief was not only acceptable, but vital. ‘My mind was set afire as if soaked in gasoline,’ Edgerton would recall many years later in an essay. ‘Emerson had served me up a bowl of intellectual rebellion at just the right time in my young life.’ The encounter steered Edgerton toward college [UNC Chapel Hill], which he had planned to skip, and onward to a successful career as the novelist behind such celebrated works as Raney and Walking Across Egypt.”